The Victoria Police officer charged with leaking details of an anti-terror raid to The Australian’s Cameron Stewart “dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s”, the Melbourne Magistrates’ Court heard today.
Victoria police superintendent Stephen Porter, who served above former Security Intelligence Group investigator Simon Artz in the VicPol chain of command, agreed that his former colleague had done the exact thing expected of him following a lunchtime chat with Stewart outside the newspaper’s Southbank headquarters on July 30, 2009.
The court heard that Artz had told his superiors at the first available opportunity — including detective senior sergeant Peter Greaney — of the meeting with Stewart, had diarised the contact and prepared an information report in line with official police procedure.
Asked by Bill Stuart, SC, for Artz, whether he would have done the same thing if he’d been in Artz’s shoes, Porter gave an unequivocal “yes”.
However, under cross-examination by prosecutor Nick Papas SC, he agreed the leak would have been a significant issue.
He agreed with Papas that “if in fact Cameron Stewart is telling the truth” and that he was told by Artz of specific details of Operation Neath including the “resolution” or raid date, then it would have posed a problem.
Stewart filed this preliminary story after his chat with Artz that contained broad details of the operation. However, the yarn was spiked by then-Australian editor Paul Whittaker after the AFP intervened and promised an extensive briefing in exchange for later publication.
The bolstered terror raid story, featuring extensive AFP backgrounding, appeared five days later on the morning that the warrants were executed.
Porter agreed that Stewart would have known independently that some Somalis resident in Australia had been travelling to Africa to fight as members of terror group Al-Shabbab.
“Anybody making reasonable inquiries in the Somali community in Melbourne should have known that,” Porter said.
He said that a fresh report on the topic would only be “slightly newsworthy” given that the events had occurred in the past and were a matter of public record.
Stewart was one of Artz’ so-called “community contacts” that he had cultivated during his work on the Special Intelligence Group’s Africa desk.
Artz, 40, is charged with eight offences including wilful misconduct and leaking against Victoria police policy. He faces serious jail time if convicted.
Last year, three suspects were convicted and two acquitted over plans to open fire on military officers at Sydney’s Holsworthy army base. Sentencing for the three is yet to occur.
Echoing previous evidence given on Tuesday by other former colleagues of Artz, Porter said that “he carried out his duties in a very professional matter to the standard I would expect of any detective”.
Under questioning from Stuart, Porter agreed that it was entirely unsurprising that Artz would have had regular contact with journalists in the field.
Earlier, the court heard that the Australian Federal Police’s Melbourne manager, Scott Lee, denied that briefing notes provided to AFP assistant commissioner Steve Lancaster and deputy commissioner Peter Drennan were for the purpose of comparing what Stewart had earlier gleaned.
He also denied that details of an updated AFP media plan, which has been suppressed, had been informed by revelations of the leak.
Lee explained that the media strategy simply focused on key messages to the community that needed to be conveyed in any similar counter-terrorism operation.
Under friendly cross-examination by Papas, Lee said that he had a “significant concern” when he was made aware of the potential leak to Stewart in a phone call from Lancaster.
The committal continues tomorrow in court 20, with blockbuster evidence from Stewart that is expected to take up the whole day.
Two employees of Andrew Denton’s Zapruder’s Other Films, Allan Hogan and Anita Jacoby, are set to appear on Monday. They were making a documentary on the AFP for Channel Nine at the time and are alleged to have had some knowledge of the operation.